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Gillard is not likely to be going anywhere soon

On the QT

Prime Minister Julia Gillard plays by her rules, but her own speech freedom was drowned out by opposition yahooing.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard plays by her rules, but her own speech freedom was drowned out by opposition yahooing. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

If you're a political leader in a precarious position, it can be hard to know what to do.

Should I whip out some new policies? Keep flogging old ones? Act nicer? Meaner? More chilled out?

On Wednesday, however, some definitive advice blasted through, loud and clear from the Northern Territory: if you're a political leader in a precarious position, whatever you do, don't go to Japan. Outgone chief minister Terry Mills made the mistake of travelling to the country. And just look what happened to him.

The whole thing makes June 2010 look positively warm and snugly. People complain that Rudd was knifed, but hey, at least the guy was present at the time of his demise.

As the NT erupted, Julia Gillard sensibly avoided all travel, staying put in Canberra, where she and her crew faced a mixed bag in question time.

Tony Abbott wanted the PM to confirm that more people had ''illegally'' arrived by boat over the past nine months than they had under the 11 years of Howard government.

''I can confirm that we would have seen fewer boat arrivals but for the Leader of the Opposition's reckless negativity,'' Gillard ventured bravely.

Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey asked his counterpart to guarantee that the government's ''credit card limit'' (authorised debt ceiling) would not go above $300 billion.

''This is another attempt by those opposite to keep fear alive,'' Wayne Swan suggested to the opposition, who looked anything but scared.

Communications man Malcolm Turnbull pressed Gillard to identify existing breaches of fourth-estate standards that the whiz-bang new media reforms would fix (i.e. what's your point?).

The PM talked of the Coalition's ''sanctimonious nonsense about freedom of speech'' and introduced the term ''bandwagoning'' to the week's political discourse, before her own speech freedom was drowned out by opposition yahooing.

As proceedings gasped out their last breath, Speaker Anna Burke continued the media policy theme, with a short recitative about Twitter during question time.

In response to opposition calls for Labor MP Steve Gibbons to withdraw a tweet he made about Abbott and the ''Libs'' on Tuesday, Burke decreed it was beyond her powers (and massively impractical) to control the social media missives of MPs.

But political communicators beware: Burke also warned that those who dared tweet from the chamber were not covered by parliamentary privilege. Not even location can protect against everything.

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